As recent events have shown, America continues to struggle with freedom and equality for all of its citizens. And while great progress has been made over the past 50 years, there is still much ground to cover and many thins to understand. A friend once told me that Black Americans are unique in the world for a variety of reasons but mainly because there is no other group of people similar. At first I didn’t quite understand where she was going with the conversation, but the more I listened and the more I began to digest her words, I came to understand the meaning behind her words and why they sparked such deep thought within me. Her words however, only covered a fraction of the entire story and as author Tom Burrell points out, the story of the Black American is a long and tragic one that is still not fully understood. In this exceptional testament to the current day status of Black Americans, Burrell forces the reader to open the eyes and mind as we explore the enduring myth of Black Inferiority (BI).
Some may be tempted to say that no such thing exist and that Black Americans are more successful now than ever before. While that’s party true, the underlying story is that the successes and achievements of Black Americans across many fields are sometimes a cover and in many cases the exceptions and not the norm. The election of Barack Obama misleading caused many to believe that America had moved past its ugly past and that for Black Americans, life would be dramatically different. Not only was it unrealistic to believe one man could change an entire country himself, it was also unfair to place such a huge burden upon him. However, he is without a doubt, the most recognized and respected role model for millions of young African-American men and women. Another point that might be made is that slavery ended over 100 years ago and no one in America is a slave today. True, emancipation did occur in 1865 under President Lincoln, but it is wise to remember, mental slavery is just as dangerous and disheartening as physical slavery. And for many Black Americans, that slavery still exists and in most cases unbeknownst to its victims.
Burrell, who has had a long career in the field of advertising, examines the root causes of the black inferiority complex seeking to understand how and why it exist. He revisits the system of slavery and the disastrous effects of it on the self-image of those enslaved. The physical pain and economic depravity continued for decades before Black Americans finally began to advance. But even today, poverty remains a significant issue across the country for Black Americans and as we very well know, Americans of other backgrounds as well. Financially, Black Americans have made great strides individually, but as a whole, our communities still suffer from decades long conditions and mindsets that do nothing to enhance the well-being of its residents. Burrell shows us the origin of both and why they continue to persist.
The book may give off the impression that the blame for the belief in inferiority lay solely with White America. However, that is not the case for Burrell shows that Black Americans also share some the blame for the current conditions of the Black community. Degrading images in the music industry, aversion to books and learning, poor spending habits and horrific dietary habits have resulted in a very slow road to destruction of what Burrell calls a form of suicide. High mortality rates combined with neglect of health and sub par health care have shortened the life span of thousands of Black Americans. Street violence and domestic violence have caused even more destruction and remain very sensitive issues with the community sometimes seeming to be beyond reproach. The hold of religion over the Black community is also examined to shed light on the complicated relationship between Christianity, slavery and modern day America. Each of the chapters in the book explores a different avenue that is set to take us to the final destination. But as Burrell points out, the destination isn’t yet determined but if things don’t change, the future is grim.
James Baldwin once said that the African-American story is America’s story. For if there are no African-Americans, there is no America. The media reminds us daily of the injustices and crimes committed by Americans against each other and in particular people of color. Until we understand why our nation’s history affects us today, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. Burrell’s focus is on Black America but the lessons in the book can be applied to any group of people deemed to be inferiority for whichever reasons. As a child, I grew up in East New York, Brooklyn during the 1980s and 1990s, when the area was one of the worst in the City of New York. Burrell’s book struck a chord and many of his points resonated with me and are things I’ve seen and experienced first hand. This book is a must for all Americans of all backgrounds and even if you don’t live in America, you too might find the information in this book to be eye-opening and highly sobering. But as we are reminded throughout the book, the inferiority we perceive to see and feel is nothing more than a myth.